Gender inequality persists around the world, including in our region, undermining economic growth, human development and poverty reduction.
Gender equality and empowering women contribute to growth, peace and security, development and stability. Violence against women undermines a country's social fabric and prevents women from achieving social and economic equality. Better educated women have fewer, healthier and better educated children, reducing dependency burdens and increasing savings in developing countries. Providing female farmers with equal access to resources could reduce hunger for an extra 150 million people. In conflict situations, women are often instrumental in brokering ceasefires and can help to deliver more lasting peace.
The Australian Government has a steadfast and ongoing commitment to be at the forefront of efforts to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. The role of Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, as a key international advocate for gender equality, is integral to this agenda.
The Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Strategy makes it clear that gender equality and women's empowerment are a core part of the foreign policy, economic diplomacy and aid work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Government is committed to strengthening our ability to engage in policy dialogue in the Indo- Pacific region and globally and advancing our international reputation as a global leader on gender equality and women's empowerment.
This strategy establishes three priorities that guide our work on gender equality:
- Enhancing women's voice in decision-making, leadership and peace-building;
- Promoting women's economic empowerment;
- Ending violence against women and girls.
Implementation of this gender strategy is underpinned by four commitments. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will:
- integrate gender equality and women's empowerment into Australia's foreign policy;
- integrate gender equality and women's empowerment into our trade, investment and economic diplomacy policies;
- invest in gender equality through Australia's development program; and
- commit to promoting gender equality in our internal corporate and human resource policies and practices.
Australia has made gender equality and women's empowerment one of six priority areas for investment in our aid program. The evidence is clear—gender equality is critical to development.
Australia's aid program actively supports gender equality and women's empowerment, through a twin-track approach. Under the first track, the Department funds specific gender equality and women's empowerment activities. Where there are persistent challenges and progress towards gender equality is slow, Australia invests in dedicated programs to promote gender equality, particularly in the three target areas of the Gender Equality Strategy. The second track mainstreams gender equality across the aid program. The Government has set a target that at least 80 per cent of investments, regardless of their primary objectives, must also effectively address gender issues in their implementation.
Why we give aid
Gender equality is central to economic and human development and a fundamental right. It helps to address the root causes of instability and conflict, drives economic growth, reduces poverty and builds resilience. More prosperous, inclusive and equal societies are more stable and peaceful.
While gains have been made, gender inequalities are still striking given that:
- two-thirds of the 774 million people in the world who lack basic literacy skills are female – this proportion has remained unchanged for the last 20 years and spans most regions
- globally, women hold an average of 23.4 per cent of parliamentary seats and in Pacific Island countries women hold an average of six per cent of seats in national parliaments
- every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth – 99 per cent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries
- in every region, women perform the majority of unpaid care work and are paid only 25-50 per cent of the total hours they work
- globally one in three women and girls experience physical and sexual violence with rates as high as two in three in some Pacific countries.
Australia's aid program aims to promote gender equality and empower women in partner countries. Investments in women's and girls' education and health yield some of the highest returns of all development investments, including reduced rates of maternal mortality, better educated and healthier children and increased household incomes.
How we give aid
The Australian Government is strongly committed to being at the forefront of efforts to empower women and girls and promote gender equality in the Indo-Pacific region. We will advance gender equality across all our aid program, our foreign policy efforts and economic diplomacy. Reflecting this commitment, the Government has appointed our third Ambassador for Women and Girls in January 2017 to advocate on these issues.
Australia will concentrate effort in areas where there are persistent challenges to achieving equality. We will invest strongly in: enhancing women's voice in decision-making, leadership and peace-building; advancing women's economic empowerment and ending violence against women and girls. We will:
- work with partner governments and regional organisations to advance their own gender equality priorities
- work sensitively within the local context
- support women's organisations and coalitions, including women entrepreneurs, women's associations and service providers for women, wherever possible and appropriate, recognising the lead role of these organisations in creating change
- work in partnership with the private sector, civil society organisations and other donors, and engage the media, schools, parliamentarians and local government as gender equality champions wherever possible
- work with men and boys as advocates for gender equality and women's empowerment where that is appropriate, including to address forms of masculinity that hinder progress
- closely scrutinise our funding for multilateral organisations, including the United Nations, the multilateral banks and the Commonwealth to ensure they effectively integrate gender equality into their activities
- recognise that women are not a homogeneous group, paying particular attention to girls, those with disabilities, women from marginalised groups and socially and economically disadvantaged women
- apply gender equality considerations across the full range of funding mechanisms, including core funding, grants and funding through partner government systems
- seize opportunities as they arise to promote gender equality and women's empowerment, apply the 'do no harm' principle and identify and mitigate risks
- participate in the global debate on gender equality and support global efforts, including through UN Women, to meet international commitments on gender equality and women's empowerment
- raise awareness of gender issues internationally, including through the Ambassador for Women and Girls, and in high-level forums
- be prepared to work for the long term - while progress towards gender equality can be rapid when circumstances are right, we need to be aware that achieving lasting gender equality around the world is the work of decades; short-term programming is unlikely to be effective.